If you work for a nonprofit and have healthy growth in email addresses and touchpoints, but fundraising is down or stagnant, you have a conversion problem. You are reaching folks, but they must write checks or sign up for periodic and regular donations.
Nonprofits with a high donor retention rate have long-term supporters who return year after year. Nonprofits with low donor retention rates must continually acquire new donors or more significant gifts to keep up.
According to The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, which studies philanthropy trends, donor retention has slipped over the last five years.
According to Professor Adrian Sargeant, director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University, “The donor retention landscape is terrible at the moment and is going from bad to worse. The latest round of AFP data was made for very depressing reading. We’re continuing to lose donors at a pretty alarming rate.”
“Over 70% of people that we recruit into organizations never come back and make another gift, so we’re caught on this treadmill where we have to spend lots of money on acquisition which most nonprofits lose money on anyway, just to stand still., says Sargeant.
Nonprofits need to reach supporters on new levels to connect them to the cause better.
Here are Five Strategies for Better Retention
Invest in Donor Retention Strategies
Remember that donors want to know the impact of their contributions. They want to feel included and part of your mission. Ensure donors are thoughtfully and adequately thanked when they donate and when a campaign ends. One of the investments to make is in storytelling content that brings your mission, and their giving, to life.
Thanking donors quickly (be sure to send an email message within 24 hours after donors give) is essential. But do not use the same communications to thank someone who gives $5,000 as you use to thank a $25 gift. Have a tiered communications strategy. Over a certain amount, personal handwritten thank-you notes are called for.
Target big givers for peer-to-peer fundraising to try and recruit them to ask their friends to give. High-income givers tend to know other high-income givers.
Part of investing in donor retention is having a database of giving with a good dashboard that manages the communications, invites to events, and timing of communications.
Personalize Your Donation Strategies
Organize your donors in tiers based on the size and frequency of gifts. Once you do that, develop a strategy for differentiating the communications and expressions of gratitude for different tiers of donors.
For example, you might decide that donors of between $2,500 and $20,000 receive special recognition in the annual report, a handwritten thank-you, and a modest but unique gift that has a connection to the cause/mission of your nonprofit. If your organization benefits needful children, for example, a piece of framed art created by the children would be appropriate and heartfelt. If your nonprofit benefits animal welfare, perhaps a local artist’s original portrait of the donor’s pet would be personal and unique at a meager cost.
For donors who give between $500-$1,000 in a calendar year, just communications and perhaps a handwritten note. For donors under $100, just an email thank-you is fine.
Depending on the nature of your nonprofit and whether it involves a public gathering place, you certainly want to think about plaques on chairs or a giving wall, or laser-inscribed bricks on a walkway.
If a gift is given as part of someone’s last will and is not anonymous, then a special thank-you gesture to the surviving family must be created to keep the family engaged as donors.
Be aware that more than email is needed. Most people get over 100 emails a day, much of them unwanted. A common complaint among professionals is the daily avalanche of emails. Have you ever seen someone’s email icon on their smartphone with a number on it, such as 23,000? That’s the number of unopened emails.
You are competing for each donor’s or would-be donor’s attention—everything from the subject line to photography or layout of email factors into the open-worthiness of your communication effort.
Effectively Leverage Social Media Channels
Social media is a beautiful way to communicate with donors and followers you are trying to convert to donors.
Remember that older donors are likely to be on Facebook, but not Tiktok or Instagram, which tend to attract younger people/donors. It is worthwhile to survey your donors to see what social media channels are most popular.
Your website should also have a blog on which you can create stories related to your nonprofit’s work that, in turn, can be linked. Facebook posts should include excellent photos that show your organization’s good works. This content can be images of beneficiaries and or volunteers at work.
Be smart about what you show and tell stories about. If you are a local opera company, you want to tell stories about bringing needy public members to the opera. If you provide food to needful people, photograph a beneficiary from the back while capturing a volunteer handing over a food parcel. Habitat for Humanity, for example, shows volunteers working on a house and the families who benefit, and the stories connected with why the benefitting families need help. These kinds of pictures show donor dollars at work.
Be mindful that you don’t want to necessarily share photos of galas that will show wealthy well-dressed people having a good time. Stay focused on images and showcasing storytelling beneficiaries of your organization.
Create Compelling Copy and Stories That Inspire
Having a blog on your nonprofit’s website is an excellent idea so that you have compelling stories full of good photography or even a Youtube video embedded from which to link on social media.
Depending on your nonprofit’s size, scope, and mission, Twitter or Snapchat may not be effective platforms for you.
Remember that a good photo can be worth 1,000 words. And when attention spans for long content seem to wane, a good photo with or without a caption is handy both as a social media asset and to use in emails to your donors.
But you also want to have a longer story on a blog. Some people will want to read a more extended form story, while some will be content just reading the photo and caption.
And here is where we talk about hiring proper help if a staffer in your organization is genuinely adept at photography and social media and task that person with the job.
It is also worth considering putting a willing staffer or volunteer through training in photography, Photoshop, videography, and simple video editing. If you have a supporter/volunteer with these skills, engaging them to donate their services or work at a reduced rate is wise. Investing in communications assets is well worth it and pays for itself.
Only deploy staff trained in photography and writing to provide these services to your organization. Amateur work does not inspire donors to support your organization and cause.
Utilize Automated Email Campaigns to Boost Donation Reminders and Follow Ups
You should have a donor management/communications system/dashboard. More than just managing donors on a spreadsheet, it allows you to organize and optimize your donor list and manage the conversion. It makes organizing and pre-program communications with your different donor groups very easy.
When planning fundraising events, such as online auctions, or selling tickets to in-person events or galas, use proven tools available through technology partners like iConnectX.com. Set up your fundraising event, collect payment through the integrated platform, and collect donor information to load into your donor management system. Best of all, it is free to use for licensed nonprofits.